Tag Archives: wine spoilage

Today’s Wine Word: Brettanomyces




Sarah wrote in because she was having dinner with friends the other night and they all agreed that their red wine smelled like Band-Aids. They actually liked the wine pretty well, but once one of them remarked on the Band-Aid character, all of them noticed it and it was hard not to focus on it.

Pretty wierd, huh?

Actually, Band-Aid is a classic descriptor for wine that has a spoilage yeast present calledBrettanomyces. It’s often called “Brett” for short. Technically, it’s a defect, but it’s really quite common. And, whether or not it detracts from the wine is a question of how much the Brett has overtaken it and your own personal taste. It’s harmless, so if you like the character, don’t worry about it. 

Many professionals feel that in low concentration Brett adds to the wine’s complexity. There are some highly regarded wines that fairly consistently show what seems like Brett character. Since Brett might be confused with something else like terroir (a sense of place that may or may not smell like earth or minerals) or varietal character (the meaty, animal character of Mourvèdre can be confused with Brett) only analysis will tell the tale.

In addition to Band-Aid character, depending upon the wine, you might notice earthy, barnyard or horse stable character. Some describe it as mousy, sweaty saddle or cheesy – YUM 😉 It makes a young red smell and taste older than it is and as it progresses it dries out the fruit. The flavors become somewhat metallic.

As far as we know, Brett arrives with the grape skins, just like the good wine yeasts and, unfortunately, over time it can become part of the winery. The porous wood in the barrels makes them especially vulnerable.

If you ever open a bottle that is so Bretty that you just can’t enjoy it, take it back!

For a free email subscription go to home page, right column



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My Wine Turned Gold


Question from Mark: I bought four bottles of Chardonnay several months ago. They looked light yellow at the time. Now, one of them has turned gold and the others are still pale. Is that gold bottle all right? 

Reply: Hi, Mark. Thanks for writing! I’ll tell ya – color matters. If all four bottles had turned deep yellow or gold I’d assume they’re getting old and you better drink them. Most whites start out quite pale and deepen with age. 

But this is different and there a a few different possibilities. When pale yellow wine suddenly turns gold something has happened to make it oxidize. The most likely reason for oxidation is a leaky cork. Check the fill height on the gold one. Is the bottle as full as the others? If not, some of the wine has leaked out and the air exposure oxidized the wine. If it’s spoiled it won’t hurt you, so go ahead and try it. If it tastes good, down the hatch! If it tastes weird you have every right to take it back – the cork failed to do its job.  A little oxidation kills the fruit and leaves the wine flat. A lot of oxidation and you have something like vinegar or maybe fingernail polish remover.   

Let me ask you some other questions. Did you have the wine stored in a cool, dark place? If it’s been too warm, all of the bottles may be suffering and that one just shows it the most. If the wine is in a place where it’s exposed to light, that can also be damaging – maybe that bottle got more light than the rest? 

No matter what kind of wine it needs to be stored at a fairly constant 45 to 65 F  – no big temperature swings –  and keep it sideways if it has a cork. It should be protected from light. Leaving it in a case box works well. It’s okay if the bottles are nose down. What you don’t want is nose up. Continue reading


Filed under Uncategorized

Today’s Wine Word: Ullage

Ullage? Such an odd word. Well, it’s the space between the cork and the wine in the bottle. It can also describe the space between the wine in a barrel and the stopper, which is called a  bung. 

Why does it matter? When you see a low fill at the wine shop, it doesn’t just mean you get less wine. It means that the wine could be somewhat oxidized. Oxidation shows up as lost fruit (dullness), brownish color or even outright spoilage, which may manifest as vinegar or fingernail polish remover character.

Ideally, there snouldn’t be much more than 1/2 inch or the wine may spoil. Many bottling lines are set up so that the ullage is filled with inert, nitrogen gas to prevent oxidation. But if you see that the ullage is down around the shoulder of the bottle it’s not a good thing. 

When it comes to the barrel, the ullage increases due to wine lost to evaporation and when the winemaker has used new barrels they absorb a lot of wine. To prevent oxidation, the winemaker establishes a “topping schedule” which means more wine is added to each barrel every few weeks or every month – whatever the winemaker believes is appropriate or what the budget permits in terms of labor.   

Subscribe    To subscribe by email go to home page, right column

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized